by Meghan Fitzgerald
n the very first season of Tinkergarten, the threat of rain terrified me. How could I make this work in the rain? Would anyone come? And, if so, would they enjoy it? Then, the best thing that could have happened to me was my first rainy day. Nearly everyone came. We made umbrellas from burdock leaves. We splashed. We sang about the rain and drank it in. It was memorable for all (my eldest daughter still talks about it), and I got more positive feedback from that class than any of my dry ones. We had all stretched outside of our comfort zones, and it felt great.
Fast forward a few seasons, and I had the same worries about winter. “How can the cold season work in an outdoor classroom?” And, I am confident that many parents wonder the same thing. Even though the temperatures range from Buffalo to Austin, cold is cold, and winter is winter. But—I came to find that the winter was just like my rainy day. It can be done, and it’s not only delightful, it makes for powerful learning.
Practically speaking, as long as everyone is well dressed, there’s neither danger nor discomfort in being outdoors in the winter. As much as we can, we try to leverage gift giving season and put all of the gear and experiences we need to play outdoors all winter long on our wish lists.
As an elementary school principal and a mom, I’ve also seen the impact on kids of staying indoors. And, health professionals agree that time outdoors in the winter is healthy for kids, as long as they have the right gear. We know when cold is too cold to be safe, and most winter days are just fine. Plus, if we teach our kids techniques for staying warm, we arm kids and families with the knowledge and the confidence to enjoy outdoor time all year long—what a gift to regain a quarter of your potential life in nature!
Beyond that, winter is full of magic. Whether you are cracking ice puddles in St. Louis or celebrating the arrival of migrating birds and miracle berries in Miami, your winter is full of amazing sights, smells and sensations that are not to be missed. Search #playoutdoorsall4 to scroll through photos of amazing winter play across the country.
Further, winter gives our kids and us a great chance to build a mental resilience and path to happiness that can help in all seasons. Just ask the Norwegians. They savor their winter—a season colder and darker than in any Tinkergarten territory. In Norway, people value the rituals and special activities they can enjoy only in winter. And they choose not to complain about winter. Small though that may seem, research shows that a focus on the positive sides of winter leads to much lower depression rates, higher activity levels and general happiness. Norway feel kind of far? Learn how and why one of our favorite Scandinavian-American mamas gets her kids outdoors all four seasons.
So, in come our rituals. In winter Tinkergarten class, we sip from mugs of herbal tea, go on special hikes, and build cozy shelters. We savor the chance to experience the winter version of our parks. And, we go home rosy-cheeked, refreshed, and so very satisfied.
We read a lot now about how important it is for kids to take risks and push their own limits, but it’s hard to tell how to do that for the under eight crowd. A winter outdoors is a great place to start. Little kids are far more resilient than we give them credit for. Plus, the chance to push their comfort zone just means more comfort and confidence for them down the road.
At the end of the day, I want my girls to feel able to handle whatever life hands to them and to see the positive and potential in any situation. Outdoor play in the winter time just may the best teaching tool I have to help them develop the ability to adapt and identify the beauty and possibility in every moment.